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Diving in The Outer Cayes and Atolls of Belize

With the longest barrier reef in the western hemisphere and access to the Blue Hole, the outer cayes and atolls of Belize are an easy diving paradise.

Highlights

Belize Barrier Reef

In addition to numerable Caribbean fish species, reef sharks and turtles, Belize’s barrier reef is home to the endemic whitespotted toadfish.

The Blue Hole

The most famous of Belize’s dive sites, this strange geological structure welcomes divers inside its circular depths, reaching 400 feet (124m) deep.

Hol Chan Marine Reserve

The Hol Chan Marine Reserve, established in 1979, leads divers through a cut in the Belize Barrier Reef, resulting in colorful marine life encounters.

Shark Ray Alley

Traditionally, this was where fishermen cleaned their catch. Nurse sharks and rays were attracted to the area and have been coming ever since.

Diving in The Outer Cayes and Atolls of Belize

Quick facts

With over 400 islands, the outer cayes and atolls of Belize are known around the world for their biodiverse coral reef and the Blue Hole. These offshore islands offer a huge variety of dive sites and environments from coral reefs to shallow caves. The water is warm and visibility is generally excellent. Some areas feature heavy currents but this can be avoided by moving to the protected side of the islands, making the cayes and atolls a great dive location for beginners and advanced divers alike.

Most diving is completed by mid-size dive boat on these Caribbean islands although some of the more shallow dives can be accessed through shore diving from the outer atolls. To visit the most dive sites during your visit, consider booking a liveaboard for your diving adventure.

For divers headed to the Blue Hole, a $40 per day park fee must be paid before diving. Divers who use a DIN regulator should bring an adapter with them.

When to go

The Outer Cayes and Atolls have two predominate seasons. Wet season lasts from August to October, and dry season ranges from November to July.

August to October

The wet season falls from August to October. These months tend to be the warmest with average temperatures around 82 or 84°F (28 or 29°C). The wet season also offers the best surface conditions, ensuring that all sites are accessible. Rainfall, while prevalent during these months, will only impact a few hours of the day. This means that most of the day will be sunny rather than rainy. More importantly, visibility may decrease due to runoff from nearby rivers.

October and November is grouper mating season. Thousands of these fish descend on the cayes to mate and give birth to their young.

August to October is considered low season for tourism and diving in Belize. However, the diving is only slightly impacted by the rain and many would argue that this is the best time to dive in Belize. You’ll find fewer crowds and the best deals during these months.

November to July

The drier of the two seasons is from November to July. These months bring slightly cooler temperatures above and below the water. However, temperatures will only drop by a couple of degrees and most divers are still comfortable in a shorty. Surface conditions can become choppy at this time, creating limited access to the more exposed sites. With that said, from November to July, you can expect little to no rain and excellent visibility.

April to June is considered the best time to dive in Belize. Although rare, these months offer the best chance at whale shark interaction in the outer cayes and atolls.

These months also coincide with peak season, so you can expect more fellow visitors than during wet season.

Rain and temperature

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Water temperature

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Where to dive

There are 6 main dive areas in the region, namely Ambergris Caye, South Water Caye, Tobacco Caye, Lighthouse Atoll, Turneffe Atoll and Glover’s Atoll.

    Snorkeling in The Outer Cayes and Atolls of Belize

    Surface fish spotting is every bit as good as diving in some areas. The western sides of the outer cayes and atolls are protected from open ocean current. Therefore, they act as a haven for both divers and snorkelers. In addition, snorkeling tours are run to the famous Blue Hole by many companies on the cayes and atolls.
    The three main atolls are Glover’s Reef Atoll, Lighthouse Reef Atoll, and Turneffe Islands Atoll. Lighthouse Reef Atoll contains the world-famous Blue Hole which is more than 1000 feet (300 meters) across and 450 feet (135 meters) deep. Glover’s Reef Atoll is the most secluded of the atolls, but is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Turneffe Islands Atoll is different from the others in that it is covered in mangroves, which provides shelter to breeding groupers. The three most popular cayes are Ambergris Caye, South Water Caye and Tobacco Caye. Of all the diving areas in Belize, Ambergris Caye is the most popular and the jumping off point for the Belize Barrier Reef.

    What to see

    Big sea animals are the show stoppers in this part of Belize. Divers regularly spot whale sharks, nurse sharks, eagle rays, stingrays and even manatees. Schooling (and occasionally breeding) grouper, snapper, barracuda, Atlantic spadefish and horse-eyed jacks surround the walls of the atolls. Sea turtles use the area’s sandy beaches to nest during summer months.

    Naturally, there is a wide variety of smaller critters as well. Everything from tiny shrimps to the endemic toadfish lives among the reefs. We are sure your logs will reflect the strange and wonderful creatures found in the outer cayes and atolls of Belize.

    Calendar

    For better readability of the table, pass into the landscape mode.

    Most likely sightingsPossible sightings

    Area

    Belize, a laid back Central American country, is home to 175 miles of coastline. However, the show stopper in this tiny nation are the outer cayes and atolls of which there are more than 400. Belize borders Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala as well as the Caribbean Sea. The second largest barrier reef in the world and the largest in the western hemisphere lies off its coast. While it might seem that this would be a major draw for divers, most dive sites in the country are uncrowded and generally unknown.

    Other attractions

    For everything the outer cayes and atolls of Belize have to offer below the water, there is just as much to do topside. Explore hundreds of Mayan ruins, trek through jungles and catch up on some bird watching. The red-footed booby birds of the Lighthouse Reef Atoll are particularly entertaining. You can also explore the area’s caves by cave tubing. If you feel so inclined, it is possible to volunteer for organizations working to protect sea turtle nesting grounds. You’re sure to have an adventure in Belize!

    Getting there

    Most international travelers arrive at Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport located in the northwest of Belize City. All of the outer islands are accessible by boat, but there are a handful of airstrips too.

    As moving between atolls can be time consuming, consider a liveaboard if you wish to dive in multiple locations.

    UTC-06:00

    Time zone

    BZD

    Currency

    +501

    Calling code

    110 V / 220 V

    Electric volt

    A, 

    B, 

    G

    Plug type

    BZE

    Main airport
    Note - Travel to any destination may be adversely affected by conditions including (but not limited) to security, entry and exit requirements, health conditions, local laws and culture, natural disasters and climate. Regardless of your destination, check your local travel advisory board or department for travel advice about that location when planning your trip and again shortly before you leave.